Mali’s Blind Couple- Great Match, Great Music

Amadou & Mariam - Wati
Amadou and Mariam

Wati (Circular Moves CIM 7011, 2003)

Known as “The Blind Couple of Mali” when they first began to make a splash in their homeland and throughout West Africa, Amadou and Mariam continue to make inroads with listeners elsewhere in the world. The story of how they met at the Institute For The Young Blind in Bamako and triumphed over their visual impairments is a heartening one, but it’s their music that will get you and keep you hooked.

It’s been widely asserted in recent years that West Africa is the true birthplace of blues music, and just like fellow Malians Ali Farka Toure, Habib Koite and Boubacar Traore, much of what is heard in the songs of Amadou and Mariam fuels that contention. Their 1999 album Sou Ni Tile (on the Tinder label) was full of longing, ethereal sounds centered around Amadou’s aching guitar riffs and Mariams voice-in-the-wilderness singing taking the lead as well as harmonizing with Amadou’s gruffer tones. There was also a distinct Arabic leaning in the disc’s frequent use of Middle Eastern modes and phrasing.

The couple went in a somewhat different direction with their next one, 2000’s Tje Ni Mousso (Circular Moves), speeding up the grooves a bit and inserting a heavier Latin/Caribbean feel hinted at previously. Now, with Wati, the two let it all hang out. Amadou’s guitars ripple with authority over galloping drum and percussion rhythms, firmly anchoring bass, varied doses of keyboard, brass, flute, n’goni lute and even hurdy-gurdy and Gnawa instrumentation.

Vocally, Mariam runs the gamut between plaintive and ecstatic as expertly as Oumou Sangare or Rokia Traore, her voice equally at home front and center or sweetening the angular edges. The steady, rolling pulse of songs like “Sarama,’ “Mali Denou” and the opening “Wali De” are tucked away among rockier pieces (‘Lahilala,” “Les Temps Ont Change”) and percolating ballads that address love, faith, history and changing times. Firmly rooted in West Africa but strengthened by shadings of funk, jazz, folk, Islamic mysticism and even rock and roll, this deeply engaging work is another keeper from Amadou and Mariam.


Ghana Government to Tax Commercialized Folklore

Ghana – A second version of the Ghanaian government’s copyright administration is seeking to place a tax on any commercialize use of folklore traditions. The first version fell flat last year due to the number of clauses. The new folklore royalty tax clause would force musicians to get governmental permission and pay a tax for any Ghanaian folklore tradition, song or story appearing in their music. Calls for public opinion forums will debate the issue before the bill goes before the Ghanaian parliament.The threat of fines and jail time, associated with passage of the tax, are expected to squash the use of folk songs and ancestral stories in music and other artistic forms. Some opponents of the bill expect the tax to silence the rich culture and tradition of Ghana, in favor of free use and prominence of American culture and other foreign influences.

Music is not the only target of this folkways tax. Writers, film makers, sculptors, painters and fashion designers would be subject to the strict standards of the tax. Stories told by ancestors, songs sung by mothers and grandmothers for generations and drum poetry would all be subject to taxation if the bill is passed. Litigation and confusion are expected to tie up artistic freedom in miles of Ghanaian bureaucratic tape for some time is the copyright administration gets its way.



TJ Nelson is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing
Athena’s Shadow
<>. Set in
Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures
of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long
forgotten family mystery.  Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of
little help in her quest.  Along with her best friends, an attractive
Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading
memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot
her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931. Traversing the line between
the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to
uncover Athena’s true crime.


Rubén Blades Pursues Law Career

Ruben Blades
Ruben Blades
Panama – Renaissance man Ruben Blades once again is surprising fans and admirers with his decision to return to his native Panama to serve the people – this time as a lawyer.

Blades, 55, has racked up accolades as an actor, Panamanian presidential candidate and singer. Now, he’s putting his film and music career in order to practice law. With a degree from Harvard University in international law, Blades hopes to be of service to his country.

His film career includes roles in Robert Redford’s “The Milagro Beanfield War” (1988) and Spike Lee’s “Mo Better Blues”(1990). In his musical career, Blades won Grammys for “Escenas” (1987) and “Tiempos” (1999) in which he teamed up with Costa Rican band Editus. His musical contribution goes beyond just award-winning CDs as Blades is considered one of the originators behind the salsa movement known as Nueva Canción or New Song movement.

Blades added politics to his resume with a 1994 presidential run in Panama where he came in third.

With a promise to return to his music in the future, fans will have to console themselves that Ruben Blades is making a difference to his people and his land.


Cuba Mourns Death of Compay Segundo

Compay Segundo
(Prensa Latina) Havana, Cuba – The death of Francisco Repilado, known worldwide as Compay Segundo, covered Cuba in mourning when the news was learned by the Cubans early Monday morning.

Repilado, 95, died late Sunday night. He had been suffering for several months of a severe metabolism disorder and kidney failure. Severe symptoms, according to the diagnosis by his physicians, provoked further complications such as the rise of his PH and cretinine level and his blood was contaminated with no remedy.

Compay was a gentleman, one of the most popular figures of our music, Anibal Perez, a middle school student said on his way to the Calzada y K funeral parlor in the El Vedado neighborhood.

Afterwards, as he wished, his remains were taken to Santiago de Cuba, his birthplace, where he was buried at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery.

Some days before dying, he had also asked the Municipal Band of Santiago, with which he was once a clarinetist and regular concert member, to accompany him in the procession. With this Band he played at the inauguration of Havana’s Capitol Building and the central highway, in 1929. The sound of his clarinet gave the signal and the flag was hoisted.

A deep sadness covers the Cuban arts and cultural scene. “We are dismayed“; writers and musicians such as Waldo Leyva, José Maria Vitier and Cesar Portillo de la Luz coincided. “He was a symbol of Cuban identity, the profound Cuban identity that fed his music and was evident in the lyrics of his songs“, they stated.

Máximo Francisco Repilado Muñoz, his real name, remained at his home in Miramar until the end of his life to not lose touch with his closest memories, to continue feeling the deep smell of the sea that brought him the persistent perfume of his childhood beach in Santiago (Siboney). His friends who saw him in the last days of his life told Prensa Latina that he recovered lucidity only during brief moments. In one of those instants, he addressed them saying: “Here, fighting.”

He started his career in Cuba when he was 15 years old, when he bought his first clarinet from Ernesto Toujares along with a learning method. “I paid him“, he would recall in a recent interview, rolling cigars in a “chinchal” (small home factory) he owned. But before, when he was 12, still wearing shorts (as the fashion dictated in the period) he had already founded a sextet christened Los Seis Ases. “We were Tivolí children“, he confessed to his colleague Jorge Petinaud, in Santiago de Cuba, “and we were very popular.” He always boasted of having been one of those “musicians on the corner” who during the hardest times of economic crisis cheered people up on the streets. He also was a serenade musician who studied music theory to find ways to permit him to do what he wanted in the right way.

Compay Segundo had a brilliant career in Cuba along with Ñico Saquito, Sindo Garay, and Miguel Matamoros, “that fine-looking dark-skinned man who thought he was Gardel“, as Compay used to say. He met Benny Moré when he was a 13 or 14 year old adolescent, worked with him, saw him succeed thanks to his clear and bright voice that identified him and has perpetuated him beyond his death.

Two of his proudest moments were having sung for Pope John Paul 2nd and that his song Macusa, full of that candid sensuality he managed so well, that soft picaresque, was one of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s favorite songs.

When he arrived to a second wave of success after turning 90, thanks to the Buena Vista Social Club
project, sponsored by Cuban Juan de Marcos González and US guitarist Ry Cooder, was an extra gift of life, as an opportunity he had to take advantage of. Suddenly he became the eldest worldwide music legend. But he never lost the humbleness, modesty, and kindness that distinguished him. As one of his most fervent Mexican fans recalls: “that smile of Compay Segundo is capable of erasing all the sorrow of your life.”


Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa Dies at 77

Celia Cruz
New Jersey, USA – Celia Cruz, the most popular salsa singer, died from cancer this afternoon at 5 p.m. EST at her home in New Jersey, with her husband, trumpet player Pedro Knight, and family friends, by her side.

Celia Cruz had been in a coma since Tuesday, July 15.

On December 5th of 2002, the 77 year old singer, was hospitalized in New York. She underwent surgery to alleviate a brain injury that affected her nervous system. Celia Cruz was released a week later. Her physician advised her to take 2-3 months to rest and limit all of her engagements during that time.

Celia Cruz was known as the Guarachera de Cuba. A native of Cuba, Cruz was the legendary queen of salsa. Her more than 50 CDs showcased her talent, intensity and determination. Cruz’s fans reach over four generations breaking down racial and cultural barriers. She collaborated with an eclectic group of musicians, ranging from Puerto Rican salsa and Latin jazz celebrity Tito Puente to pop star David Byrne.

In a field so powerfully dominated by male singers and musicians alike, Celia Cruz won global recognition, numerous tributes, a Yale University doctorate, the admiration of her peers, a Hollywood star, a Grammy, a statue in the famous Hollywood wax museum, movie and theater appearances, the key to numerous cities, and the key to the hearts of music lovers everywhere.

Read more about Celia Cruz and her discography.


Celebration of Afro-Latino Culture

Redondo Beach California, USA – A celebration of Afro-Latino Culture will take place Saturday, August 16, 2003, from 11:30AM – 6:00PM, in Redondo Beach, California.

There will be performances from Perú, Honduras, Colombia, and Brazil, with music & more than 20 dancers one one stage wearing traditional costumes from the coast of Perú. There will also be authentic cuisine from various countries in South America.For further information or reservations
contact (310) 323-3233. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach CA. 90278.


The Voice, North American Debut for Vusi Mahlasela

New York, USA – South African musician Vusi Mahlasela makes his North American debut with The Voice, a definitive collection handpicked by Vusi which spans his recordings over the last eleven years. ATO releases the album August 5.

Vusi Sidney Mahlasela Ka Zwane was born in 1965 in Lady Selbourne, near Pretoria, and grew up in Mamelodi township, where he still resides. Vusi never knew his father, lost his mother at a young age, and was raised by his maternal grandmother. Growing up in Mamelodi, a cradle of creativity that has produced a number of noted poets, writers, artists & musicians, the young Vusi began to teach himself to play on a homemade guitar, a remarkable instrument made of tin cans and fishing line. Vusi can’t remember a time when he wasn’t singing—“I’m sure I learned to sing before I could talk”— and was a seasoned performer by the age of seventeen. He soon discovered that he had a flair for composition and began to write his own music and lyrics.

From the outset, Vusi’s songs addressed themes of political and social significance, and so he found himself in demand at political rallies and cultural events. His message of peace also drew him into close contact with poetry groups, especially the Ancestors of Africa, a rousing group of poets, musicians and actors, formed in 1981. He recalls, “We were picked up and harassed in all types of situations, going to church every Sunday and being forced to sign a piece of paper at the police station first. If I was going out of town for a wedding, it had to be reported to the police first. They kept on harassing me with the things I was doing. But I stuck to it.”

After joining the Congress of South African Writers in 1988, Vusi developed a new level of confidence as a poet and a writer. He struck up a creative friendship with South African poet Lesego Rampolokeng at the same time he was falling under the spell of artists like Miriam Makeba and Phillip Tabane. He was also exposed to the work of Victor Jara, whom Vusi acknowledges as a central influence on his own music and lyrics.

His first record, When You Come Back was recorded and released by Shifty/BMG in 1991 and produced by Lloyd Ross. The album is widely acknowledged as a South African classic. Then, in 1994, Vusi was asked to perform arguably the most important gig of his life: the inauguration of South Africa’s new president, Nelson Mandela. That same year, with South Africa undergoing massive transition, Vusi released his second album, Wisdom of Forgiveness. The album saw Vusi receive a finalist nomination for Best Male Vocalist at the FNB SAMA (South African Music Award). Vusi has released three albums since ‘Wisdom’, including the Gold-certified and double SAMA winning Silang Mabele (1997), Miyela Afrika in 2000, and his most recent Jungle Of Questions (2002), which Vusi produced and recorded alongside his Proud People’s Band backing outfit.
Vusi is featured in Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, the celebrated film about the importance of music and song in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.

An accomplished guitarist, percussionist, composer, arranger, band leader and performer, Vusi now enjoys an ever-growing following that spans worldwide. Among his most ardent supporters is Dave Matthews, who is a native of South Africa and has long aimed to make Vusi’s music known in the U.S. In fact, when Matthews founded ATO Records several years ago, one of his foremost goals was to sign Vusi to the label. In 2000, he invited Vusi to contribute guest vocals on the title track of the Dave Matthews Band’s multi-platinum album Everyday. In 2002, ATO was approached by the producers of Amandla! and enthusiastically secured rights to release the soundtrack. Matthews further realized his goal earlier this year, signing Vusi to ATO.


Los Soneros del Barrio Follow the Tradition

Los Soneros del Barrio - Siguiendo La Tradición
Los Soneros del Barrio – Siguiendo La Tradición
New York, USA – Los Soneros del Barrio are back with their third and new album Siguiendo La Tradición (Following Tradition).” Under the Rumba Jams label, this reputable salsa group returns with renewed classic rhythms and impressive danceable musical arrangements.

This new album has one of the best selections in musical arrangers, musicians and producers who work in the New York salsa scene. Among them there are: Ricky González and Dave “Dr. D” Feliciano (producers), Sonny Bravo (piano), Nelson González (Tres), Louie Cruz (arranger), Ángel Fernández (arranger), George Delgado (percussionist), and José Febles (arranger).

José Febles arranged “Timboro” especially for Frankie Vazquez, who decided to record it for the first time with Los Soneros Del Barrio. This song serves as a special tribute to the now deceased José Febles.

Buy Siguiendo La Tradición


Cuban Multi-Instrumentalist Tito Duarte Dies in Spain

Madrid, Spain – The Spanish Performing Rights Society (Sociedad General de Autores y Editores – SGAE) reported today that Cuban composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Tito Duarte died yesterday at age 57 at the Hospital Reina Sofía in Córdoba (Andalusia, southern Spain).

He was the son of legendary Cuban pianist and composer Ernesto Duarte, and was in the Andalusian city working on a show titled Sueños de ida y vuelta (Dreams of Come and Go) by flamenco guitarist Víctor Monge “Serranito”, programmed for today at Córdoba’s world famous guitar festival, Festival de Guitarra de Córdoba. In this regard, and as a tribute, his fellow musicians have decided to continue with the project. There is also a recording project, with the same title, that will be released by the Factoría Autor label, owned by the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE). Similarly, Factoría Autor was working this month on what was going to be the new recording by Tito Duarte, La herencia del viejo sabor (The Legacy of the Old Flavor),in which the multifaceted artist had intended to recover old songs from popular cuban music canciones de la música popular Cuban music such as Suavecito (M. Luna), La María (Saumell), Buena Vista Social Club (Israel López “Cachao”), Para Vigo me voy (Lecuona), Mambo in Sax (Pérez Prado), Mambo In (Mario Bauzá) or Como fue (Ernesto Duarte).

Factoría Autor has confirmed today its intention to finish the CD project “as the best tribute we can pay. Most of the songsd are already recorded, as well as Tito Duarte’s performances and arrangements”.
Many well known artists participate on La herencia del viejo sabor, such as Luis Dulzaides, Víctor Merlo, Horacio Icasto and Jorge Pardo, as well as singers such as Miguel Bosé, Moncho and Ángela Carrasco. The album was being recorded at the Sonoland studios in Madrid, produced by Julio Palacios and Luis Miguel Fernández.

Duarte toured Latin America recently with Miguel Bosé, a Latin pop star.


The Three Pickers: Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs

Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs - The Three Pickers
Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs – The Three Pickers
Boston, USA – Rounder Records released this week The Three Pickers, on a CD and DVD.

For one historic evening, American music legends Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs joined forces as The Three Pickers, to film a concert for Public Television.

The music they made before a live audience is as relaxed as a front porch picking session, celebrating the virtuosity and good humor of these three bluegrass masters. With special guest Alison Krauss.

It was history made that night,” said Ricky Skaggs

The audio CD contains three bonus tracks: “Daybreak Blues” by Doc and Richard Watson, “Doin’ My Time” by Earl Scruggs with Family and Friends, and “Ridin’ That Midnight Train” by Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky

The DVD contains the bonus tracks “What Is a Home Without Love?” and “John Hardy,” plus an exclusive 30-minute documentary featuring interviews with and songs by The Three Pickers


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